MLB Winter Meetings: Jayson Werth to Washington Nationals, Adrian Gonzalez Deal Dead?

December 5, 2010

On the ground at the winter meetings in unseasonably cold Orlando, Fla., there has been quite a bit of action already.

Actually, in much colder Boston, the Adrian Gonzalez trade is currently off, as the slugging first baseman and the Boston Red Sox could not agree on an extension. They had a window until 2 p.m. today, and while the Red Sox were willing to given Gonzalez a six-year extension, the player wanted eight years and “Mark Teixeira money.”

Many people here believe that if Gonzalez tests the free-agent waters after this season, there would be up to six potential suitors for the type of money (eight years/$180 million) Teixeira signed for two winters ago. Those teams include the Dodgers, Angels, Nationals, Cubs and, of course, the Red Sox.

The Cubs were the other teams heavily involved in trying to trade for Gonzalez last week. Could talks with the Cubbies begin anew?

While the deadline for an extension has passed and the trade is now dead, it does not mean it is completely done. The teams could talk trade again (same players involved), and the Red Sox could up their offer.

I believe the Red Sox need Gonzalez so bad that they at least go to a seventh year (he would only be 35 in that last season), and this trade eventually gets done.

It gets done because of the major news today from the meetings that former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth, he of the 120 career home runs at the age of 31, signed a big-money contract with the Washington Nationals.

That deal is for seven years and $126 million. Are you kidding? This deal will turn out just as bad as the deal Jason Bay signed with the New York Mets. Maybe it’s the name.

Well, Scott Boras did his work here and earned every penny of what he is getting paid by Werth.

But the right-hand hitting Werth was also on the Red Sox radar, to complement the trade for the left-hand hitting Gonzalez.

Now Werth is out, and the Gonzalez deal is done, for the time being. Even if the Red Sox do eventually get Gonzalez, they need another bat.

And that means going after Carl Crawford. The Sox can put a dent in the Yankees and Angels’ pursuit for CC No. 2 and improve their own lineup, too.

Let’s say the Red Sox then do sign Crawford. That means the Angels are needing to improve their team. They would like to get lineup help and want Crawford to be their No. 3 hitter.

But if Crawford signs elsewhere, the Angels can improve their team by getting better starting pitching.

And that means going heavy for Cliff Lee. What better way to crush the rival Texas Rangers, hurt the Yankees and improve your own team?

I have always thought the Angels were going to be a dark horse for Lee. However, many people here believe that Lee does not want to go back to the west coast. Valid point.

Also, the Angles aren’t hurting for starting pitching, with five starters already in the fold, including Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Joel Piniero, Dan Haren and Scott Kazmir. But Kazmir is mostly ineffective and could be moved, as he only has one year left before free agency. They could also move the more desirable Santana to make room.

However, money does talk (ask Werth), and the Angels will certainly be able to go $150 million for six years for Lee. That might get it done. Angels owner Arte Moreno has never been shy about spending his hard-earned cash.

Plus, I have always believed the Angels don’t really need Crawford with speedy youngsters Peter Bourjos (ready now) and Mike Trout probably ready in 2013 or sooner. Trout could be the best overall prospect in the major leagues.

Going after and signing Lee would make the Angels the leading contender in the AL West and would severely alter the Yankees pitching plans for their rotation.

If Lee signs elsewhere, what do the Bombers do then? I have several thoughts on what they could do,  but they will be held for another piece.

These possible moves are the domino effects of the Gonzalez trade being called off (for now) and Werth strictly showing us money was the only factor in signing with the Nationals.

So much has gone on here at the winter meetings, and they haven’t even officially begun.


Vladimir Guerrero: Good for Baseball or Reason to Eliminate the DH?

August 11, 2010

The Bleacher Report editorial staff asked me my opinion on the designated hitter. Do guys like Vladimir Guerrero of the Texas Rangers and David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox help the game, or is their specialization bad for baseball?

I consider myself a baseball purist (I dislike artificial turf, 12-man pitching staffs, innings limits, pitch counts, and the Wild Card) but I do like the DH.

Certain hitters in 2010, such as Ortiz and Guerrero, were thought to have been done as major league hitters. The Angels made the hasty decision to believe Hideki Matusi’s heroics in the 2009 World Series would translate over to 2010. The Halos signed him instead of re-signing Vlad.

However, Guerrero and Ortiz have had a resurgence in 2010 and are big reasons why their teams are in playoff contention.

If there were no DH, then these players would likely have not had the same type of seasons, if they were playing at all.

Since the April 6 game in 1973 when Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees was the first ever DH to have a plate appearance, this position has allowed many players to elongate their careers in the comfy confines of the “half player.” 

Those early days included DH’s like Orlando Cepeda (who could have been the first DH), Frank Robinson of the California Angels, Tony Oliva of the Minnesota Twins, Billy Williams of the Oakland A’s, Harmon Killebrew of the Kansas City Royals, and Hank Aaron of the Milwaukee Brewers.

These players were all former 1960s hitting stars (most are Hall of Famers) who were near the end of their careers. Although slower in the field, they could still be productive with the bat.

For instance, Robinson hit 30 home runs in 1973 as DH, and Oliva, who was often injured and had terrible knees, extended his career by a few years.

The game at that time was not in a boom period. Pitching dominated. Runs were at a premium, and the AL owners (who voted eight to four in favor of the DH), wanted to boost run production and attendance. It was the second time within five years that baseball made rules changes for improved run production.

After the 1968 season, affectionately called the Year of the Pitcher, the height of the mound was lowered from 15 inches to 10 inches.

And young fans (such as myself at the time) were able to see big time former stars (such as the all-time home run king Aaron), able to still play baseball. We wanted to see Aaron hit. Most of these DH’s still played the field a little bit, too, yet they probably would not have had a roster spot if the DH were not in effect.

In 1973, several young players also got the opportunity for more early career at bats. Oscar Gamble (23) of the Cleveland Indians likely had his career kick-started a little earlier with the help of the DH.

Even though Gamble already had major league time accumulated, the increased frequency of his plate appearances were the result of the DH. Others, like Carlos May and Hal McRae, played more often because of the DH position.

The DH has now evolved into not just a full-time position, but also a rotating spot in the lineup. For example, the New York Yankees regularly give one of their position players a “half day off” by letting them DH in a game to give them a break.

This is another example of what baseball has always loved: seeing the big stars play more often. Who wants to go to their first baseball game (a day game following a night contest) and not see Alex Rodriguez or Vlad Guerrero in the game? The DH spot allows for this star player to still play.

The great Joe DiMaggio retired early because he wasn’t at full-strength in 1951, his last season. DiMaggio primarily meant his play in the field. If the DH were present and in full swing in 1952, DiMaggio could have still had a few more productive seasons with the bat while a young Mickey Mantle assumed full-time duties in center field.

And maybe a few more young fans today would have been able to say they once saw Joe DiMaggio play for the Yankees. 

This is similar to the All-Star Game played every year. It does not matter how good Alex Gonzalez played for Toronto in the first half when fans want to see Derek Jeter start at shortstop. If some National League first baseman were having a “career year” in the first half, sorry Charlie, but Phat Albert is playing at the first sack.

Since the game (and people’s jobs) are determined by wins and losses, if an aging DH is not producing, he likely will not keep his job. That is why managers with not a whole lot of tenure will only play guys who are productive, not being able to afford to sit on a certain player.

Guys like Harold Baines, Hal McRae, Edgar Martinez, and Paul Molitor all succeeded at the DH position because they were still productive. Frank Thomas was the same way, and when he stopped hitting, he was “retired.”

Of that group, only Molitor is currently in the Hall of Fame, although Thomas will probably get in quickly. Pushes for Baines and Martinez (although eligible only one season thus far), have fallen on voters’ deaf ears. While Martinez still may have that Bert Blyleven push if he continues to struggle, it shows that only the “best of the best” at any position will make the hallowed Hall.

It is not like a bunch of aging veterans are hanging on to accumulate Hall-ready numbers. Even if Ortiz produces a year or two more, he is not Hall-worthy, while Guerrero probably would be as he was a better all-around player for his entire career.

The game is about winning and only the good players will play.

Ask former Seattle Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu how quickly things can change when your team does not play well. Where Wakamatsu had not built up any “winning tenure,” a manager like Boston’s Terry Francona can weather the David Ortiz storm a little longer, hoping he breaks out of his early season malaise. But most managers need to win now.

And it was good for the game overall to see Big Papi become a threat once again, as it was for Vlad Guerrero. Two stars who the fans want to see, not because they are “padding their stats” but because they are productive players who are helping their teams win games now.

Don’t the Angels wish they had Vlad back this season?


Carl Crawford: Why This Tampa Bay Ray Will Not Be a New York Yankee in 2011

April 4, 2010

Too many articles talked about Joe Mauer heading to free agency after this season and signing with the Yankees. That was never going to happen because of Mauer’s native roots and his homegrown status of being a Twins first-round draft choice and first pick overall.*

* Do you think the Twins feel good that they did not take Mark Prior first overall? Just before the draft, Prior was going all John Elway on Minnesota, saying he did not want to play for the Twins. Good thing for Minnesota they listened to Prior’s rants. However, if the homegrown Mauer was not available, the Twins were ready to take Mark Teixeira. Besides Mauer and No. 5 overall Teixeira, the 2001 draft might have the worst first round in history.

Now Yankee fans are clamoring for next season’s free agent list. I have seen articles preaching that the Yankees are going to go after and sign Cliff Lee (and if Lee is healthy, the Yankees will do just that), Jayson Werth of the Philadelphia Phillies (possible), but especially Carl Crawford of the division rival Tampa Bay Rays.

I have read that certain Web sites claim their sources have told them that the Yankees hierarchy “absolutely love Crawford.” Jon Heyman, a respected national baseball writer, also claims the Yankees love Crawford, and they want him to play left field for the Yankees—probably for the next five seasons.

With Crawford as a free agent after this season, it will take a five-year deal to land him. In addition to the Yankees, the usual cast of characters—like the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets—would be in the running, too.

Most baseball executives and media people believe Crawford will sign with the Yankees. Financial estimates are that it will take a five-year deal for about $15 million per year to get Crawford. That is $75 million for a guy with a career split of .297/.335/.437/.772 with an OPS+ of 103, just above league average .

But he steals lots of bases, plays good defense, and has a little pop with his bat.

Except for the pop, with the same amount of plate appearances, that description could be Brett Gardner—and he will cost a whole lot less. I am not saying that Gardner is as good as Crawford, but he will do a lot of the things Crawford does—except for the power.

The Yankees do not need Crawford for 2011, and they will not sign him after this season.

Why? Because, like Mauer, Crawford will re-sign with the only team he has known—the Tampa Bay Rays. They can afford it.

There is so much talk about how the small-market Rays can’t afford Crawford and their other free-agent-to-be, Carlos Pena—and the Rays will lose both players.

The term “small market” is so overused, it is comical. First, revenue sharing reaps teams such as Tampa—and Pittsburgh and Kansas City—at least $25 million every year right at the start. Each team also receives at least $35 million for MLB through licensing agreements.

Second, at the end of the 2010 season—Bye, Tom Hicks—every owner of every baseball team will be stupid rich. The owners made their money outside of baseball, and they are part of the best restricted club in the entire country.

Tampa owner Stuart Sternberg is worth a ton of money. He made it on Wall Street and got out to buy the Rays just before the stock market fell in value.

The idea of the luxury tax and revenue sharing was developed so teams can put that money back into signing free agents—not other teams’ free-agents-to-be, but their own .

That is why the Florida Marlins ponied up the money for Josh Johnson, the Royals ponied up a couple of years ago for Zach Greinke, and the Rays will pay to keep Crawford. Although the Marlins appeared to be forced to pay Johnson, I still believe the Marlins never would have let him leave through free agency.

By having money from a wealthy owner—and revenue and licensing sharing funds in their coffers—the Rays will re-sign Crawford.

The second reason Tampa will re-sign Crawford is that he has been the face of the franchise for a few years now. Sure, Evan Longoria is the younger, power-hitting third baseman. But he has been with the franchise only two seasons, while Crawford will be entering his 13th season with Tampa—his 10th in the majors.

Crawford, who will be 29 this season, was even quoted in the Heyman SI.com piece that “I’ve been here since I was 17. This is all I know .” The Rays and Crawford’s agent, Brian Peters, tried to get a long-term deal done just after the 2009 season. But they were far apart, and talks were tabled until after the season.

That gives the Rays an exclusive negotiating window of about 15 days after the World Series ends to deal with Crawford.

The third—and maybe most important—reason Tampa will re-sign Crawford is that the Rays, excluding arbitration cases, are now only on the hook next season for $13 million in player salaries. Their best player, Longoria, is tied up for through 2016 at very reasonable rates. It is ridiculous that Longoria’s salary is only $2 million this season. It might be the best contract ever for a sports team based upon production received.

Rays who are free agents after this year include Crawford, Pena, Pat Burrell, Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, Randy Choate, and Gabe Kapler. There’s no way Burrell re-signs. Soriano is a maybe based upon his 2010 season—but not more than a two-year deal—while Balfour, Choate, and Kapler are replaceable spare parts.

The Rays have arbitration deals with many of their younger players, including BJ Upton, Matt Garza, Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett, JP Howell, and Dioner Navarro. I believe they get all those guys done for about $25 million—unless they deal Bartlett, who could be a free agent in 2012.

That is about $40 million—I rounded up—really tied up for next season. With a payroll of $70 million this season, Tampa’s obligations are about $30 million under what it is currently paying.

What the Rays do very well is promote their young talent. The have youngsters like Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson, Desmond Jennings, Sean Rodriguez, Matt Joyce, and Reid Brignac—who will make an impact this year or next. All will be playing at near league- minimum salaries for the next couple of seasons.

Some people are saying Jennings, a natural center fielder, is destined to take over for Crawford, who plays left field. Jennings is more likely to take over for Upton in center field, with the team moving Upton to right field or out of Tampa by trade.

I mentioned the hard-hitting Sean Rodriguez, one of the Rays younger players. He was obtained from the Los Angeles Angels in the Scott Kazmir trade, and he is expected to play a big role this year with his ability to play multiple positions. The Rays traded Kazmir mostly to rid themselves of his contract so they can afford to re-sign Crawford.

While many are saying the Rays could let Crawford go as a free agent and collect the two draft picks, they would not be getting the top draft picks—unless the Mets sign Crawford. The Rays made their current team by drafting near the top of the first round and by making shrewd trades. The pick from the Yankees or Red Sox would not be near the top.

Finally, I cannot see the Rays letting Crawford go as a free agent—knowing he will likely land with the Yankees or Red Sox—and have to play against him for the next five seasons. While Crawford is a player based upon his legs, he is good enough to give a team the same future production in the next five years as he has during the previous six full seasons.

But that production—an OPS+ of 103—is not good enough for a corner outfielder, and not at that asking price.

Not for a team signing another team’s free agent, but it is good to fit into the scheme of the current team.

The Rays can most certainly afford Crawford at $15 million per year.  They could even sign Crawford and Pena and still be at the same salary as last season—but with the versatile Zobrist and Rodriguez providing power, Pena is likely gone.

The Rays will compete this year—at some points this season, they will occupy first place in the AL East and could make the playoffs.

Crawford fits well with the Rays. He is the first homegrown star, the Rays want him back, and he is going to make a lot of money.

And that money is going to come from the Rays.


ALCS Thoughts through Five Games and a Game Six Prediction

October 25, 2009

Well, the Yankees dropped their first series of the postseason, losing two of three from the Angels. I thought this would happen, but I also thought the Halos would take one of the first two games in Yankee Stadium; their defense and untimely hitting made that impossible.

The Angels changed their approaches while playing at home. During Games One and Two, Vladimir Guerrero was constantly being challenged inside and he never once came though with a big hit.

However, during Game Three, he tied the game at three all with a two-out, two-run homer off of Andy Pettitte. When Guerrero first came to the plate that game I said to my friend, “Vlad’s off the plate more than he was in Games One and Two. He is compensating for his slow bat.” Just last week, I wrote that Vlad was being pounded inside by the Yankee pitchers. We went to MLB.com and saw video of Vlad in Game Two and from Game Three.

Vlad was off the plate more in Game Three and this little adjustment helped the Angels take two of three.

Being off the plate allows an inside ball to become a pitch Vlad is better able to hit. And he showed that with the tying home run. The Yankees have to notice this and begin to mix up their locations. Always a game (and series of adjustments), Vlad also came through in the crucial Game Five with a game-tying, two-out single off Phil Hughes.

He is not back to the old Vlad, but the Yankees need to realize they must mix their locations more and not leave pitches over the middle of the plate for him.

Or for Jeff Mathis, for that matter.

The Angels backup catcher is known as more of a good field, no-stick catcher who only hit .211/.288./.308/.596 with just 13 XBH in 272 plate appearances (PA). His line last season was about the same, only he was below the Mendoza line. And Mathis strikes out way too much for a hitter, as he totaled 90 whiffs in 2008 (in 328 PA) and 72 K’s this year.

And here is a quirky stat: Mathis has struck out the same number of times as the amount of total bases he produced in each of the past two seasons. He totaled 90 bases last year and 72 this season and had the exact same number of whiffs.

That is almost impossible for a non-pitcher to attain. A hitter who is that unproductive usually is not in the majors very long.

Defense is why Mathis is in the majors, but offense is why he is playing more in the ALCS, where he is hitting .600 (6 for 10) with four doubles. He is also John Lackey’s personal catcher, catching the pitcher’s last 19 starts, including the three Lackey started this postseason.

In fact, Mathis was behind the plate for this game, a Lackey win over CC Sabathia on July 12. Mathis will get a chance to hit again this series, starting Game Six behind the plate. Scioscia is banking on Mathis’ hot bat to keep going strong.

Mathis will not have much of an offensive impact in Game Six.


Bobby Abreu

Doesn’t it seem like every time there is a called strike on the Angels right fielder, that he has a look of disgust on his face? It appears that Abreu thinks any time he takes a pitch, it should never be called a strike. He is a patient hitter, walks a lot, taught the Angels’ hitters to be patient, blah, blah, blah, but Abreu is not Ted Williams.

(There is a great story about a young catcher who asked the home plate umpire where a close pitch was on a certain lefty slugger. The umpire replied the pitch was outside, when the catcher said, “No it wasn’t, it was right on the corner.” The umpire came back with, “the batter up right now son is Mr. Ted Williams and he has such a good batting eye that if Mr. Williams does not swing at a pitch, it is most certainly off the plate.”)

Abreu has not had a good series, going 3-for-21 (.143 BA) with two doubles and one RBI. He has an uncharacteristic seven strikeouts, one for every three at-bats. Instead of taking all these good pitches for strikes, it might be wise to adjust a little and begin swinging earlier, at better pitches.


Nick
Swisher

Swisher had the ultimate opportunity to cleanse his putrid ALCS system with a go-ahead hit against Angels reliever Brian Fuentes on Thursday night. The two-out, 3-2 pitch from Fuentes was a virtual meatball, right down the middle at 89 MPH. A very, very hittable pitch.

And Swisher muffed it. It is impossible to come through all the time in big situations, but on a pitch like that from Fuentes, the odds of getting a hit go up immeasurably. All the pressure was on Fuentes to throw a strike as he did not want to walk the ever patient (and walk machine) Yankee right fielder.

But it was Swisher who wilted under the pressure. In between every pitch in that at-bat, Swisher was seen taking huge deep breaths, trying to calm himself down. Wilting under playoff pressure is nothing new for Swish, as he has been a dud in most of his other postseason experiences.

That is why I felt it strange Yankee manager Joe Girardi did not “rest” Swisher in Game Five against the right-handed Angels starter, John Lackey, giving the start to speedy Brett Gardner. In that case, Girardi would be using Gardner’s speed to give better defense and on the bases a few times a game.

Gardner offers different weapons than Swisher, but it is all dependent on him getting on base; he couldn’t be any worse than Swisher at getting on base at this point. Also, Lackey has shown often in this series that he can be agitated on the mound, and what better way to agitate a pitcher than to have speed on the bases.

But that being said, Swisher will likely start against lefty Joe Saunders tonight. Any other righty power hitters on the Yankee bench, or even in their system?

Shelley Duncan, where are you? Better yet, this role will be played next season by youngster Jesus Montero, who will be only 20, but his bat is Major League ready right now.


John Lackey

Speaking of Lackey and his attitude, unless the Angels win Game Six in New York and/or get to the World Series, the really good, right-handed pitcher has thrown his last game for the Angels. His demonstrative actions on the mound shows his competitive spirit, but he must bring up his issues with his manager before the inning or while the pitching coach visited the mound earlier.

Lackey can not show his manager up in that situation, although Mike Scioscia was clearly wrong in pulling Lackey with bases loaded and no outs in the seventh inning. Lackey had a 4-0 lead, giving up no runs in the contest!

Imagine Johnny Keane pulling Bob Gibson during a must-win game. Imagine Walter Alston pulling Sandy Koufax in the mid ’60s, or even Tommy Lasorda pulling Orel Hershiser during a key game during the last two months or the postseason in 1988.

And who was Hershiser’s catcher during that season?

Mike Scioscia, who should know that No. 1 starters in the playoffs deserve any benefit of the doubt in key spots.

That is why Lackey, a free agent after this season, will definitely leave the Angels for greener pastures. Lackey also showed his Steve Carlton and Jim Palmer frustrations with his defense in Game One after Eric Aybar let Hideki Matsui’s pop-up drop in the first inning.

And forget it, New York Met fans, who would love to sign Lackey to a free agent contract. It is not going to happen. Why would any big-name free agent choose to play for that joke of an organization like the Mets over any other team with a chance at playing in the postseason? With Omar Minaya’s negative exploits this season, most free agents are using the Mets to bid up prices for other teams.


Joe Girardi

It has been written ad nauseum about Girardi’s managerial decisions regarding bullpen management. Bottom line is Girardi has gone with Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera the entire second half as covering the last two innings. Even though Hughes has struggled, and David Robertson has succeeded throughout the playoffs, there is no way Girardi will take Hughes out of his customary 2009 eighth inning role.

But, Girardi might need to utilize D-Rob’s talents more often, and for longer stretches, in future postseason games.

With Hughes and Joba Chamberlain likely going into next season’s rotation, Robertson is going to have the leg up on Mark Melancon and others for next season’s eighth inning role in front of Rivera.

That being said, if there is a Yankee lead in the seventh inning tonight, two outs and men on base, I go with a well rested Mariano Rivera for two-plus innings.

I still do not know why Girardi pinch hit Francisco Cervelli in Game Three for Rivera when Mo could easily have gone another inning or two. The “DelGrippo Rule” on postseason games is win the game you are currently playing and worry about balance of the series tomorrow.

There is no need to go with something other than your best in a close situation. Guys like Rollie Fingers, Sparky Lyle, John Hiller, and Rich Gossage used to continuously go multiple innings in important games.

In that classic Game 163 on Oct. 2, 1978, Goose went two-and-two-thirds innings for the save in the Yankees 5-4 win over the Boston Red Sox for the American League East title. It was done then and could be done now. Rivera went three innings in Game Seven of that 2003 ALCS versus Boston. I know both were lose and go home games, but these guys can do more than what current managers are asking.
My Take on Tonight

I originally picked the Angels in six games. I never like to pick a team in seven games in a baseball series because of too many variables in one baseball game. Your team could have a Bob Gibson gem, and still have a Curt Flood type of play lose the game for you.

I thought the Angels would take one in New York, win two of three at home, and have Joe Saunders pitch great in a Game Six back in New York. However, I did not anticipate how much they would be affected by the poor weather in New York and play lousy defense.

Instead of the Angels going for a clincher tonight, it is the Yankees going for series victory. That is the big difference in this Game Six.

The Yankees have been amazing all year in their home park, and there is no reason to believe this will change. There is no aura about the Stadium, no ghosts from Ruth, Gehrig, or DiMaggio who will help their old team.

What they will get is an effective start from Pettitte with Mariano closing it out. While I believe Girardi should use Mo earlier and longer tonight, General Joe will likely go with his usual seventh and eighth inning guys. His reasoning is that you need to keep guys for tomorrow’s game, but the idea is to go all-out to win tonight and worry about tomorrow…well, tomorrow.

Jeter and Alex have big nights with the bat, and the Yankees win 7-3.

A Cleveland Indians fan’s worst nightmare comes true Wednesday night, as Sabathia faces the Philadelphia Phillies‘ Cliff Lee, both former Indians Cy Young winners, in Game One of the World Series.


Thoughts on the Recent Three Game Series in Anaheim

October 23, 2009

Well, the Yankees dropped their first series of the post season, losing two of three from the Angels. I thought this would happen, but I also thought the Halos would take one of the first two games in Yankee Stadium, but their defense and untimely hitting made that impossbile.

The Angels changed their approaches while playing at home. During Games 1 and 2, Vladimir Guerrero was constantly being challenged inside and he never once came though with a big hit.

However, during Game Three he tied the game at three all with a two-out, two-run homer off of Andy Pettitte. When Guerrero first came to the plate that game I said to my friend, “Vlad’s off the plate more than he was in Games 1 and 2. He is compensating for his slow bat.” Just last week, I wrote that Vlad was being pounded inside by the Yankee pitchers. We went to MLB.com and saw video of Vlad in Game 2 and from Game 3.

Vlad was off the plate more in Game 3 and this little adjustment helped the Angels take two of three out there.

Being off the plate allows an inside ball to become a pitch Vlad is better able to hit. And he showed that with the tying home run. The Yankees have to notice this and begin to mix up their locations. Always a game (and series of adjustments). Vlad also came through in crucial Game 5 with a game tying, two-out single off Phil Hughes.

He is not back to the old Vlad, but the Yankees need to realize they must mix their locations more and not leave pitches over the middle of the plate to him.

Or to Jeff Mathis for that matter. The Angels back up catcher is known as more of a good field, no stick catcher who only it .211/.288./.308/.596 with only 13 XBH in 272 plate appearances (PA). His line last season was about the same, only he was below the Mendoza line. And Mathis strikes out way too much for a hitter, as he totaled 90 whiffs last season (in 328 PA) and 72 K’s in 2009.

And here is a quirky stat: Mathis has struck out the same number of times as the amount of total bases he produced in each of the past two seasons. He totaled 90 bases last year and 72 this season and had the exact same number of whiffs.

That is almost impossible for a non-pitcher to attain. A hitter who is that unproductive usually is not in the majors very long.

Defense is why Mathis is in the majors, but offense is why he is playing more in the ALCS, where he is hitting .600 (6 for 10) with four doubles. He is also John Lackey’s personal catcher. As a Yankee fan, I hope Mathis does not get a chance to hit again this series, meaning there is no Game 7 and a possiblity of Lackey going on short rest. 

BOBBY ABREU

Doesn’t it seem like every time there is a called strike on the Angels right fielder, that he has a look of disgust on his face? It never appears that Abreu thinks any time he takes a pitch, it should be called a strike. He is a patient hitter, walks a lot, taught the Angels hitters to be patient, blah, blah, blah but Abreu is not Ted Williams.

There is a great story about a young catcher who asked the home plate umpire where a close pitch was on a certain lefty slugger. The umpire replied the pitch was outside, when the catcher said, “No it wasn’t, it was right on the corner.” The umpire came back with, “the batter up right now son is Mr. Ted Williams and he has such a good batting eye that if Mr. Williams does not swing at a pitch, it is most ceratinly off the plate.”

Abreu has not had a good series, going 3 for 21 (.143 BA) with two doubles and one RBI. He has an uncharacteristic seven strikeouts, one for every three at bats. Instead of taking all these good pitches for strikes, it might be wise to adjust a little and begin swinging earlier at better pitches to hit.

NICK SWISHER

Swisher had the ultimate opportunity to cleanse his putrid ALCS system with a go-ahead hit against Angels closer Brian Fuentes on Thursday night. The two- out, 3-2 pitch from Fuentes was a virtual meatball, down the middle at 89 MPH. A very, very hittable pitch.

And Swisher muffed it. It is impossible to come through all the time in big situations but on a pitch like that from Fuentes, the odds of getting a hit go up immeasurably, and a good major league hitter like Swisher should have rocked that pitch. All the pressure was on Fuentes to throw a strike as he did not want to walk the ever patient (and walk machine) Yankee right fielder.

But it was Swisher would wilted under the pressure. In between every pitch in that at bat, Swisher was seen taking huge deep breaths, trying to calm himself down. Wilting under playoff pressure is nothing new for Swish, as he has been a dud in most of his other post season experiences.

That is why I felt it strange Yankee manbager Joe Girardi did not “rest” Swisher in Game 5 against the right handed Angels starter John Lackey. I thought Girardi should give the start to Brett Gardner, using his speed to give better defense and utilize Gardner’s speed on the bases a few times a game except for once a game.

Gardner offers different weapons than Swisher and it is all dependent on Gardner getting on base, but he couldn’t be any worse than Swisher at getting on base at this point. Also, Lackey has shown often in this series that he can be agitated on the mound, and what better way to agitate a pitcher than to have speed on the bases.

But that being said, Swisher will likely start against lefty Joe Saunders tonight. Any other righty power hitters on the Yankee bench, or even in their system?

Shelley Duncan where are you? Better yet, this role will be played next season by Jesus Montero.


Thoughts from Saturday Night’s Epic 13 Inning ALCS Game 2

October 18, 2009

When Jerry Hairston scored in the bottom of the 13th inning, it ended another improbable New York Yankee win. Improbable because the Angels played a pretty decent game, and had the Yankees down one with three outs to go.

The Angels had so many opportunities to score and win, but their inability to get the big hit really hurt. The Halos had 20 base runners last night, but scored only two runs, and their hitters left 28 runners on base!

I love when people scream about OBP and how that is the most important thing in the game. Tell that to the Angels last Saturday night who had the 20 base runners, several times with bases loaded. They got their guys on base, but could not get them in. Every team gets guys on base every game.* But you need the productive hitters to drive them in.

 And the Angels did not do that in Game 2. And for the most part, the Yankees didn’t get their runners in either.

*Well, runners did not get on base for a single game 17 different times, most recently this past season in Chicago.

PITCHING INSIDE

Have you noticed all the inside pitching going on the ALCS? The Yankees were pounding the fastball inside to Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu, Torri Hunter and Vlad Guerrero in Games 1 and 2. Basically the entire lineup but primarily those four. And you know what? They were a combined 6 for 36 with one RBI, which was Figgins’ bloop single down the left field line in Game 2’s extra innings.

And a few of those six hits were bloops or bleeders because the Yankees are pitching inside.

There are a variety of reasons why it is important to pitch inside, namely it is the toughest area for a hitter to put the good part of the bat on the ball. Guerrero and Hunter can not catch up with the fastball, espcially Vlad, who looked very slow with the bat. And when he starts to look inside, Joba whiffed him on a slider low and away, the second spot impossible to consistenly hit the ball hard.

Also, about this time of year, hitters are tired, their legs are sore and this slows their swings. Hitting is all in the legs.

So, the Yankees are throwing inside hard stuff to the Angels hitters and daring them to show they can hit the hard fastball inside. Since the Angels have yet to do that look for the Yankees to continue to pound them inside.

It also could be that the Angels are not used to the cold, weather, especially all the Latin players on their team, and getting pitched inside in the cold is not the best feeling in the world.

The Yankees are being pitched inside, too. Alex has had a hard time with the inside pitch. He takes most of the inside fastballs, has popped up others (Saturday night with the bases loaded), but on three big middle to outside pitches, he has powered game tying home runs the other way.

Jeter had his home run to right field, but has struggled most of the time inthe ALCS with the hard inside pitches. Same with Cano, whose only big hit was a breaking pitch AWAY which he pulled for the RBI triple.

Maybe it was the colder weather that played a role in this pitching attack by both sides, but I am postive this method will continue in the warmer climate of Anaheim.

GUERRERO’S STRUGGLES

He can not hit the inside pitch, and since legs are a big part of  a players bat speed, it makes me wonder if Vlad’s numerous leg and back injuries over the years have taken a toll. He hit many weak ground balls Saturday night with AJ Burnett and a crew of relievers pounding him in.

This is not a good time for Guerrero to show weakness as he is a free agent this off season. As his ego will want him to get big dollars, it does not look like the Angels will bring him back, and Vlad might have to settle for a one year deal somewhere with lots of incentives. Maybe the Twins (between Mauer and Morneau) would be interested in this right handed power bat, or maybe the Red Sox if Jason Bay gets away via free agency.

Baseball is a game of adjustments. An idea at the major league level to hit the inside pitch is just to look inside ONLY with less than two strikes, and hit pitches early in the count. Never “work the count” if you are struggling as getting behind early is only going to cause a hitter to think more at the plate. Look for the fastball inside early, and if you get it, rip the pitch.

DEFENISIVE STRUGGLES

It simply amazes me that both team are making serious mistakes in the field. Not just with the physical errors of Jeter and Cano, plus the throw in the 13th by Cesar Izturis, but the mental mistakes too. Physical errors can be overcome, but mental errors are game changers.

Their is no way Izturis should have tried to turn that double play. Fielders have to understand the speed of the runners (including the batter/runner) and Melky Cabrera moves very well down first base line, and he has beaten out several double play relays this season. With one out, the play was to first base. The way the hitters were failing with runenrs in scoring position all night, gettign the secure second out at first base was the right move.

I always teach my second basemen in youth leagues and high school that where the ball is hit usually dictates where you go with the ball. When Melky hit that ball into the seocnd base hole, the only play was to get the out at first.

SAFE CALL AT SECOND BASE

A tremendously gutsy call for the second base umpire. Eric Aybar never even came close to touching the bag, and that was caused by Cabrera’s hustle from first to second in trying to break up the double play. Normally, Aybar would have come forward to the bag, taken the throw then moving still moving forward, touched the base and made the throw.

But when he saw Melky charging into second base like the second coming of Don Baylor, he did not move forward, and never touched second. The hustle of the runner caused this and it was rewarded I can not believe that the two announcers continued to speak how it was a bad call.

McCarver especially. He also mentioned that he did not realize that the speed of the baseball was slower when it reached the plate as opposed to when the pitcher initially releases the ball. This is shown on FOX’s new pitch tracker gadget.

 


Los Angeles Angels Were Never in the New York Yankees Head

October 18, 2009

Heading into a three game series at Anaheim in late September, the Yankees were in the middle of another West Coast road trip, and the Boston Red Sox were casually in the midst of a nice winning streak. The Yankees lead in the AL East had shrunk to only five games, and the Yankees were heading into a Stadium which they had not fared very well over the last half decade.

Over the prior five seasons the Yankees were a combined 5-18 against the Angels in Anaheim, including an embarrassing three game sweep at Anaheim this season just before the All Star break. In that July series, the Yankee pitchers allowed 29 runs in the three games, and entering the middle innings, the Yankees had leads in all three contests.

In addition, the Yankees have played in two playoff series with the Mike Scioscia led Angels.

In both the 2002 and 2005 ALDS Series, both Yankee losses, the Bombers were 1-4 at Anaheim.

Then, the Yankees proceeded to drop the first game of that September series, and sat five games ahead of the Red Sox who had lost to lowly Kansas City. But the Yankees still had two more against the Angels and the Sox still were playing the last place Royals.

Why do the Yankees, team with arguably the best track record in the last 15 years, have a problem with the Angels?

Several reasons.

First, the Angels are good, with good players and a good, secure coaching staff. I say secure because the coaches have pretty much been the same since Mike Scioscia took over. No hotheaded firings over lost playoff series, no cannings because your cleanup hitter decided to go into a funk during September and October. No pitching coach turnstile because of too many sliders left hanging over the middle of the plate.

The hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, first base coach Alfredo Griffin, and bench coach Ron Roenicke have all been with the team since Scioscia was named manager.  The third base coach this season, was the bench coach before switching with Roenicke. The only change on Scioscia’s staff was at pitching coach when then Angel pitching coach Bud Black became manager of the San Diego Padres.

The coaches know how to do things as a team. But while the coaching stability and team concept are so important during the regular season grind, it is up to the players to perform in the post season. And the Angels had better teams than the Yankees those years, playing better baseball when it mattered.

One great thing I heard during the Yankees telecasts from Anaheim in September is that the Angels are first in MLB in going from first to third on a single. That is immensely important in putting pressure on a defense. The cool thing, however, was that the Angels also want their minor leaguers to attempt more stolen bases to learn how to improve and do it correctly, and to attempt to go from first to third. They do not mind getting thrown out on either play because they want their farmhands to play Angel baseball.

I remember a town (Union, NJ) near where I grew up (Cranford, NJ) which had tremendous high school football and baseball teams. They played in the top division in the state, and won many Group and State titles in both sports. The revered high school coaches taught the “Union HS way” to the local Pop Warner and Little Leagues, teaching the kids what they would expect to do at the high school level. When the kids arrived in high school, they were well versed in the proper methods of play.

Anyway, the Yankees won to win the final two games of that September series, built up their AL East lead again. But many pundits said the Yankees got that proverbial monkey (the Angels rally monkey perhaps?) off their back.

But the Angels never were “in the Yankee heads.” It is tough to win against a good team when you are on a cross country trip. Even the Red Sox were only 7-12 at Anaheim, but their 3-0 record in two playoff series during that span outweighs their less than .500 regular season record. 

It is tougher to win on the West coast during the regular season because teams are usually in the midst of seven to 10 game trips away from home, and it is a grind day after day. Combine that with the talent the Angels have had, and the pressure their style of play put on the opposition, and it makes sense that the Yankees did not play well there.

The Angels have been a  good team the last eight years or so, winning five division titles and one World Series title in 2002. It is based upon stability of the coaching staff, as many players have come and gone through their system. Only #1 starter John Lackey has been there since 2002. This team is not afraid to play their youngsters, evidenced by starting the rookie Lackey in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series.

The Angels have been a successful over the last eight years or so, and they have had the team concept better than anyone.

But they have never been in the Yankee heads.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.